Get Your Dictum Right: It’s Not “Upside Down,” Stupid! It’s “Right Side Up”!

Reading yet another discussion of Marx on Hegel on dialectics. Encountering yet another misremembering of the famous Marxian dictum: Marx said we need to read Hegel materialistically, we need to turn him upside down. No, it’s “right side up,” stupid – stop misquoting this place, it’s getting annoying:

“My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.


The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre Epigones who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

Karl Marx, Afterword to the second German edition.

Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Volume 1 = Done (“Die Ausbeute der ersten Periode ist nicht sehr groß.”)

“Mit diesem Fund des Gedankens schließen wir den ersten Abschnitt. Mit diesem Prinzip treten wir in die zweite Periode. Die Ausbeute der ersten Periode ist nicht sehr groß. Einige meinen zwar, es sei noch besondere Weisheit darin. Aber das Denken ist noch jung, die Bestimmungen sind noch arm, abstrakt, dürftig; das Denken hat hier nur wenige Bestimmungen, und diese können nicht aushalten. Das Prinzip des Wassers, des Seins, der Zahl usf. hält nicht aus; das Allgemeine muß für sich hervorgehen. Nur beim Anaxagoras sehen wir das Allgemeine als die sich selbst bestimmende Tätigkeit bestimmt.”

Science vs. The Rest: Round N


In his commentary on my essay “Science is Not your Enemy,” Leon Wieseltier writes, “It is not for science to say whether science belongs in morality and politics and art.”  I reply: It is not for Leon Wieseltier to say where science belongs. Good ideas can come from any source, and they must be evaluated on their cogency, not on the occupational clique of the people who originated them.

The rest is here.

Soviet Hegelians

One of the least explored areas of “Hegelian Studies” (and such certainly exist, philosophically if not organizationally) is the realm of Soviet Hegelian preoccupations. That Hegel was extremely important for folks like Plekhanov and Lenin is indubitable. But what exactly the role of Hegelian philosophy was, beyond the cliches of official affirmation of Hegel as the most important source of Marxism, is still rather unclear.

A research agenda in this area would benefit from proceeding with a number of question such as the following:

1) Did Plekhanov really understand what Hegel (and thus Marx) was really about? Being the (often self-proclaimed) “first Russian Marxist,” Plekhanov was largely responsible for introducing Marxist ideas to the East, but his philosophical views were often criticized as rather confused and shallow. Is it possible that Plekhanov (following the lead of Engels to a certain extent, and perhaps even Marx himself, but to a lesser degree) vulgarized Hegel’s philosophy by claiming that it only had the “dialectical method” as its valuable part, the rest was idealist mystification?

2) Why was Lenin really studying Hegel’s Logic in 1914-15? Official Soviet line (repeated, by the way, by none other than Zizek) was that he was looking for dialectical ways of moving forward, for his “theory of socialist revolution” and so on. But, having read enough biographical data, it’s hard to believe that Lenin would shut himself in the library to read Hegel to look for some alleged theoretical breakthrough. Last time Lenin studied philosophical texts so intently was in 1908 when he was writing Materialism and Empiriocriticism – he spend eight or so month, produced a rather poor (philosophically speaking) book that was aimed at crushing his political opponents (which it failed to do anyway).

3) Was the famous Soviet philosophical debate of the 1920s – between the “mechanists” and the “dialecticians” – really about how to interpret Marx in the new circumstances or was it already a debate about whether Marxism should “develop” (i.e. go forward and thus abandon some old doctrines and take on new doctrines) and adopt to the new historical and political circumstances? Oddly enough, it is “Hegelians” in this debate who turned out to be the most conservative participants, insisting that Marxism was about dialectics (and therefore about Hegel read materialistically). Is it possible to see the fight against philosophy in the 1920s (philosophy in general was to be “thrown overboard” and replaced with science) as the fight against taking Marxism to be a “philosophy” and thus to be in debt to German Idealism (Hegel)?

4) How un-Hegelian was Stalin’s fourth chapter of The Short Course? Are there detailed studies that demonstrate how almost each point made in that famous section (“Historical and Dialectical Materialism”) is against all philosophical intuitions of both Hegel and Marx?

5) And, finally, Soviet Marxism in the 1960s (“Thaw”) was perhaps the best and most sophisticated engagement with Marx and Hegel in the Soviet Union – why is there still no comprehensive history of the period? Or did I once again miss the book?

Materialism in German Philosophy – From Boehme to Sloterdijk and Beyond

London German Philosophy Seminar

In this seminar series we will discuss the history of materialism in German philosophy against the background of the contemporary revival of materialism in continental thought. Materialism will be conceptualised as a destabilising, transgressive and opposing motif in philosophy, a form of critical and enlightened thought that is directed against the ideological structure of all idealisms, including the attempt to silence materialism in much of 20th-century German philosophy by its reduction to a metaphysical doctrine. We will think about materialism’s far-reaching implications for the self-understanding of philosophy, for the theory of subjectivity, of agency, morality, embodiment, freedom, truth, space and time, nature and life, meaning and history.
The opposition between materialism and idealism is far from obsolete, and can also be used today to understand the renewed task of philosophy as the theory and practice of liberation. The seminar will also devote attention to the historical split between university philosophy…

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Hegels Antwort auf Kant XXX. Internationaler Hegel-Kongress der Internationalen Hegel-Gesellschaft und der Universität Wien 23. – 26. April 2014

XXX. Internationaler Hegel-Kongress der Internationalen Hegel-Gesellschaft und der Universität Wien

Hegel-Gesellschaft‘s congress website’s use of one eye from the same painting as the one at the top of this blog makes Hegel even creepier looking:

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The meeting looks like an interesting gathering, if only because it is in Vienna. They do need to spice it up with some events/papers that take Hegel out of the dusty academia…